Friday, August 3, 2018

From Stroke to 50 Miles; My Journey Into Ultra Running

Somewhere in the
middle of the race
It was just over two years ago that I suffered a stroke by tearing my right vertebral artery.  Such a shock for me, my family and friends; we didn’t know what to expect. It was a month later I started doing some slow walking and jogging.  Then I was picked to be an ambassador for Orange Mud. A company I love, I wasn’t sure how I would represent them without knowing when I could really run again.  After a year of recovery, with slow running here and there, and physical therapy with NW Rehab, I began trail running last summer with some of our friends weekly and decided I would run a 50k.  So I signed up for Autumn Leaves 50/50 and set out for my first ultra. Autumn Leaves 50/50 was a great first ultra. Though I know I did not train enough, I met my goal to finish and completed a 50k.

My coach and race director
I took a little break and ran shorter distances for the following two months. Then in late December 2017 my husband and I decided to set out on this running adventure and on a whim, we signed up for a 12 hour race with the goal of completing 50 miles at the Angry Owl Ultra Marathons (a 6, 12, or 24 hour run). To make the training schedule more motivating, I hired Crusty Cap coaching to design my training program.  Josh, Crusty Cap director and race director for Angry Owl, did an amazing job and definitely kept me motivated on those days I really didn’t want to run. We also joined our running group on many long runs on the weekends to make the miles pass by and become a bit more enjoyable.

Throughout our training, we completed two ultra distances of 30 miles.  We ran the Eugene Marathon at the end of April, plus some more miles before and after.  Eugene was fun and many runners from our group ran and did awesome! For Chris and I, we ran really well for not competing and using it as a training run.  Our last 30 mile training run in June was way harder than Eugene. It was just Chris and I running all around Minto Brown park a couple of times. While I have always known running to be more a mental effort than physical (to an extent) running these distances has really tested my mental game.  I know I am physically fit enough to achieve these distances, my post stroke symptoms no longer hold me back, but man, that mental toughness is hard to keep going. But I still kept asking myself, “Can I really keep going for 12 hours? Am I capable of completing 50 miles? Why am I doing this again?” Our minds are the biggest obstacle sometimes.  

The week of the race, I continued to have my doubts.  The weather was hot during the week and my heel had been bothering me for a little while.  When race day came, all of that doubt seemed to disappear. I had a good night sleep, a good breakfast and early lunch, and set out to Bush Park to settle in for the next 12 hours.  The logistics of the course were simple; a one (ish) mile loop around Bush Park, with nearly all trail terrain. Our race started at noon and the temperature was about 80 degrees.  I knew it was going to get hotter into the mid 90’s as the afternoon went on, so I mentally prepared and made sure to take in enough water and calories. I mostly used my Orange Mud gear vest, and switched to the handheld a couple times to give my shoulders a break.  I didn’t have to use a pack for this kind of race, since we passed by our aid station every mile, but I liked being able to have my fuel with me whenever I wanted. I stayed hydrated with mostly Tailwind and had some sips of Pepsi throughout the day. I used Honey Stinger gels to get in some more calories and ate the usual aid station food; gummy bears (my favorite) potato chips, oreos, etc. and kept cool with my buff and kool tie.  

There were many times when I was just like, “ah, I just want to be done” but I reminded myself that I was at one time unable to walk, and here I was running for 12 hours, I couldn't just stop! Towards the beginning of the race I saw a life flight helicopter land and take off from the hospital. That was the ultimate reminder for me as that was me being life flighted not that long ago. This gave me a bit more of a push and reminder of why I was doing this. I'm doing this for those who can't run, to inspire those who think they can't, and for ME!

As the sun went down, I started to feel a bit more energized and motivated. Chris and I had SO many supporters come to cheer us on throughout the day and that definitely helped. We were so thankful to see everyone. As the night continued on, my watch died at mile 44, so I didn’t track my walking breaks from then on, but I think that was a good thing as I stayed focused on my goal and taking one step at a time.  

the best cheerleader out there
I continued to count down my laps as I passed by and as I rounded the last corner on the trail on lap 50, I literally said “oh sh** I’m done!” I ran in with my good friend Melissa who was the ultimate cheerleader throughout the whole day, so she deserved the last lap with me! And that was it! We did it! A year ago I never thought this would be possible, but it happened! So many lessons learned along the way, but I think the biggest is that no one or nothing can keep you from reaching your goals.  We are capable of so much more than we think and with the right mindset you can get there!

My biggest cheerleader and motivator <3
All finished!  50 laps for me, 51 for Chris
Tonya and me.
She completed her fist 50k!!

Saturday, January 6, 2018

New Year, New Goals

As we start a new year, new goals and new routines begin to kick in.  For 2018 comes new territory for Chris and me in the ultra running world.  We went to sign up for the 2nd annual Angry Owl race, and at first the 6 hour race was what sounded feasible to me, then Chris goes “let’s do the 12 hour race and have a goal of 50 miles!”  Really, 50 miles???  Can I really do that?  Will my legs hold up to that amount of time?  So many questions and thoughts went through my my mind for a few days, then I finally said, “Why not, let’s do it!!" So Chris and I signed up for the race, hired a coach to help me map out my training (Crusty Cap Coaching), and have begun the mental training in my head to be on my feet for 12 hours.  
That is a long time for anyone, but it feels like a bajillion hours of running.  Last year was the first time I trekked into the ultra running world and completed my first 50k in 6 ½ hours.  I remember saying after that race that I didn’t want to go much over a 30k for a while, then I go and sign up for a 12 hour race! It’s still hard to wrap my head around running 50 miles, but the more I have gotten connected with ultra runners through our Orange Mud team and our great local running group, ZaoFit, I know I can find the motivation and inspiration to meet this goal we have set out for.  We are well on our way and off to a great start for 2018.  Lets keep the juices flowing and have some fun!

Our great running crew, Zao Fit

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Autumn Leaves 50/50

The Angry Owl crew with Dean
(missing a few in here)
I started my 50k trek back in July when I knew I was healthy enough to take on more running and begin to run again for me.  I started with wanting to lose 10 lbs (that I had gained over the year post stroke) and just begin making more of an effort than I had been to make my health a priority; including eating healthier.  We had some friends running a 6 hour race at the first annual Angry Owl Ultra Marathons, then learned they were including a 1 hour race.  We for sure could do that Chris and I signed up for this race.  It was a 1 mile loop at Bush park; run as many laps as you can in the allotted time.  We knew I couldn’t get more than 6 full miles in, so we did 6 laps and then helped our friends run a few more after that.  We took off for a few hours then came back to watch them finish up their 6 hours.  I was inspired by watching my friends run for 6 hours, and the other competitors out there, and thought, “hey, they did it, and many others who didn’t fit the mold did it, I could do that!” So I made the decision to sign up for a 50k.  
One of many fun trail runs at
McDonald Forest
25k Condor race

I searched to see what was coming up in the fall and found Autumn Leaves 50/50 (a 50k and 50 miler) at the end of October, beautiful scenery, flat, and generally good weather.  Yep this was going to be it!  I talked Julie into signing up to, and soon her husband followed suite.  We trained often up at McDonald Forest, near Corvallis, and enjoyed the trail running up there.  Chris and I also had signed up for a 25k here, the 25k Condor race, so we got familiar with the trails  Jerry, Julie, Chris and I ran up here often throughout August and September, definitely a great place to do trail running that is somewhat close by to us.  We had many enjoyable training runs here, with fun pictures, meeting fun people along the trail, and enjoying each others company.  Chris and I raced the 25k Condor on October 1st and thoroughly enjoyed it.  It was a great trail run, that was well put together. The day was perfect and the trails were kind to us; definitely one I will do again. Throughout our runs this summer, we used our Orange Mud packs, the Endurance Pack 2 liter and the Gear Vest 1liter, that kept us hydrated and all our goodies with us; yes I ran with bacon a couple times!

Training continued mostly on my own after this as Chris twisted his ankle pretty good at work.  He had to stay off it as much as he could, so he didn’t run much again until the week of the 50k.  I ran a few long runs on my own with the dog, but probably never ran quite long enough for some “good” training for a 50k.  Nonetheless, I ran what I did and was ready to tackle a 50k on October 28th, 2017.

On the morning of the race, we woke up at 4:30 and left the house at 5:15.  We got there plenty early to get our race numbers and do our regular pre-race rituals.  The morning was cold, clear, and crisp.  The stars were shining bright as we started the race at 7am and headed out on the course; the first of five 10k loops at Champoeg State Park. We were greeted on the trail with a beautiful sun rise out of the east horizon and amazing morning sky show.  The race route was 80% paved trail, and 20% dirt.  The course was key shaped loop with and out and back like route.  We were never alone on the course, which was fun because we could be inspired by those who were just rock’n it and keep each other motivated as our mind games played with us.  We saw one of our fellow Orange Mud ambassadors, Anthony, as well, which was fun to see, even though he didn’t have the race he was hoping for.  He fell at mile 43 (he was running the 50 miler) and re-injured his ribs...definitely not a fun time, but he continued to inspire us nonetheless.
I was feeling pretty good for about 3 and half loops, staying hydrated with my handheld Orange Mud bottle mixed with Tailwind and using the aid stations for other fuel, but then I really began to feel some aches and tightness in my right leg.  But what was really bothering me, was the tingly, weak, and slight numbness of my left leg...this is mainly from my post stroke pain that just is inevitable.  This wasn’t something to keep me from stopping though.  I tried to keep running through the uncomfortableness by doing intervals, but it just wasn’t working.  With Chris by my side, he said, “let’s just walk, so then you will for sure finish and not kill your body.”  He was right.  I had to put my pride aside and remember what my goal of this race was and what it meant to FINISH and inspire others that anything is possible.  So that is what I did.  I walked the last 9 miles and when was all said and done, I didn’t feel bad about it.  I finished in 6 hours and 30 minutes for my first 50k.  I FINISHED and became an ultra runner!  It definitely wasn’t easy, but I was glad I did it.  Jerry and Julie both met their goals and did awesome! They continue to inspire and motivate me to keep up with my running.

So will I do this again?  At this very moment, no, haha, I might stick with 30k and under for a little while.  I want to train within my means of my life that feel good to me, so that is the plan; stay in shape with yoga, running, and weight training. I am forever grateful that I have the ability and opportunity to run and will continue to do so as my body allows.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Yoga Benefits

I’ve always been a fan of yoga and have been in practice off and on for a number of years now, and by no means am I an expert in yoga, but I thoroughly enjoy it.  Yoga has so many benefits for runners and non runners alike.  I’m sure you’ve heard it before but I’m going to go tell you the benefits you can gain from yoga and what I have personally gained from my practice.
Some of the countless benefits include an increase in flexibility, stress reduction, increase in  awareness and concentration, injury prevention, it teaches you how to use your breath properly, increases balance, stability, strength, and stamina.  Additionally, yoga can help decrease a variety of health concerns including high blood pressure, arthritis, back pain (if done properly), and mental health.  I am not a doctor or a certified yoga instructor, but I have read time and time again these benefits in articles written by professionals.  My own personal benefits that I have gained include creating calmness, increase in flexibility, stress reduction, discipline, and as many of you know, my balance and strength in my recovery from my stroke has been the largest benefit for me this past year.

Best of all you can always do yoga with your kids!  Chloe has been doing downward dog with me since she was 8 months old.  She loves doing yoga poses with mommy and it’s a great way to engage with your kids and be active at the same time.

I hear over and over again from some of my friends that they are afraid to try yoga, that they are “too clumsy” or “I can’t balance!”  While it can look intimidating when you see all those “perfect” yoga poses by those who teach and/or practice it everyday, but in reality, even those that teach do not always do it perfectly every time.  Even our teachers are still learning too, as many of us continue to do in any of our professions.  Yoga is such a great exercise and practice because, like running, you go at your own pace, you go as far as you can go, and you get stronger overtime!  So who cares if you hold a tree pose for 3 still held it for 3 seconds!

My advice to those who are interested in learning more about yoga is to try a class; look at your gym and your community.  Find the right type of class that suits you...I tend to go to mixed level classes as I can make the class fit me and others around me do the same for them.  In our community we have many free yoga events.  My favorites are with Mikki Trowbridge and her Beer and Yoga events.  I go to her community classes when I can and I LOVE it when she holds events at vineyards in our local area.  This week I attended her class at Eola Hills Legacy Estate Vineyard and it was gorgeous out; the perfect setting for a yoga class.  I find added benefits as they are generally in nature (during the spring/summer months) and it's a new community to bond with and enrich your soul.  My next endeavor in yoga is to try Mikki's SUP Yoga on the water! So get out there and try something new in the yoga world and see how it can benefit you and your health! Namaste.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

1 year stroke anniversary

I’ve been a bit hiatus the past few months in the blogging world.  Work from April to June is pretty crazy as we try to work with our students to complete their credits and graduate on time.  But we did it!  I was able to attend the class of 2017 graduation this year and was proud to be a part of all the successes this year.  As we all know, I celebrated my strokeversay on June 11th...last week.  Last year it was the morning of the 2016 graduation that I never made it to.  So this year was extra special.  All spring I kept joking with my seniors saying “don’t put me in the hospital like last year’s seniors did.”  They all laughed, but I also freaked them out a bit :).  All joking aside, my seniors also helped me in moving forward this spring, with staying focused on maintaining my stress levels and looking forward to their big day. 

My awesome co-workers. Couldn't
have survived this year without them
I moved through this school year and paid closer attention to my body and learned a few things along the way.  I learned that patience is a far more difficult thing than I thought before.  Patience for so many reasons.  Patience in allowing myself to just rest and do NOTHING, patience to allow my friends and family help me when I wasn’t able to, patience in allowing myself to recover at it’s own pace and not push my body, and especially patience in knowing that, hey I am alive and I am OKAY!  

I also learned I am a pretty determined individual and I wouldn’t take no for an answer.  This came through while I was engaged in my physical therapy during my recovery.  I was not progressing as much after a few months from my stroke and continued to have sensation issues and weakness on my left side.  I had connected with a colleague at a conference who used to work for an amazing physical therapist, so I called him up.  He is THE BEST.  He is an athlete and has experience working with young stroke patients.  He GOT ME unlike my therapists at Kaiser.  He understood that I needed to get back to being active and not be afraid of falling over.  My therapist and I were both determined to get back to a safety zone that I could feel comfortable performing in running, yoga, and any other activity I wanted to engage in.  We fought hard with Kaiser insurance to get them to approve his therapy since it was out-of-network.  I have never seen a doctor so passionate about his work and go above and beyond like he did to try and get me the care I needed and deserved.  
Chris and I on a long trail
run in Portland

We were not successful in winning the approval from my insurance, but that didn’t stop us from continuing our therapy.  I worked with him for 8 weeks and improved my balance and strength.  I felt more confident in moving forward with a normal workout plan and getting back into some “racing”.  So thank you Mike Studer with Northwest Rehab for helping me get back to being ME!  I so appreciate your hard work and determination that you and your clinic provide to get your clients back to health!  
So far I have ran in two 5k road races and one 10k trail race.  All felt good and I had zero issues, and of course my Orange Mud gear assisted me through my races.  After my 10k, I feel more determined and motivated to sign up for a longer trail race.  So I did!  Chris and I are both signed up for the Condor 25k Trail Run in October and will be representing Orange Mud. They've been such huge supporters in my recovery as well. Time to get back with our running friends with Zao Fit and log more miles with them!
My awesome Zao Fit ladies after
my 1st 5k since my stroke

It's definitely been a roller coaster this past year, but I am so thankful for the continued support from my family, friends, and co-workers. I wouldn't have been so successful in my recovery without everyone!!! I still continue to have some issues with my left leg and can feel lightheaded if I haven't had enough water, food, or am stressed, so I'm still learning that patience thing a bit, but all in all, I've made quite the speedy recovery in one year. I've enjoyed connecting with others around the country and being able to share my story with others in hopes of inspiring others that all things are possible with the right mindset. This Father's Day weekend will be a year that I came home from the hospital. I am so very blessed and thankful for all that has occurred and all I have learned. Everything happens for a reason and we must continue to learn from our experiences and help each other along the way.

Just being silly as usual
Rogue enjoying the beach for the first time

Friday, April 7, 2017

Running From Stroke

I grew up with riding my bike alongside my dad as he trained for marathons during my childhood, which influenced my desire to begin a lifelong career of running at the age of 12.  Running was a sport I could find myself in, connect with countless others around the world, compete against myself and build a whole new network of a family.  As my life has changed into a working mom, my running and fitness goals have changed too.  For 2016 my goals included running 1000 miles for the year (first time since my collegiate running days) and compete in my first 50k ultra marathon trail race.  I was pumped up about these goals as my love for trail running had grown over the years and this was a new challenge to embark on.
I started off the year with a pulled achilles, then slipped and fell on a bridge and hit my tailbone that set me back on my mileage.  As I was healing and gaining miles back, I continued on my training plan and was back on track.  I ran a 30k trail race as a start to my official training for my 50k on June 5th, then six days later, my goals would have to change dramatically.
I woke up at 3:30 in the morning on June 11th, 2016 with excruciating head and neck pain, then quickly became dizzy and numb on the right side of my body.  I knew this wasn’t something I could cure on my own, so I called out to my husband to call 911 as I knew I needed medical attention.  Doctors weren’t quite sure what was happening to me at first as I still had most function in my body and was communicating, until my whole right side lost all function and I was beginning to have trouble breathing.  It was then that doctors put me under to stabilize me and could see that I was having a stroke.
How does a perfectly healthy 31 year old female, with absolutely zero risk factors have a stroke?  This is the question that still boggles my mind and my doctors.  My specific stroke, which was a right vertebral artery dissection, is generally caused by extreme neck trauma.  Still mind boggled because I hadn’t really experienced any trauma.  I had just ran a 30k trail race and been going along business as usual the week prior to my stroke.  My only conclusion is that I gave myself whiplash from some extreme violent sneezing during a seasonal allergy attack.  But still..seriously?
Nonetheless, I had a stroke.  My running and fitness goals changed in an instant and new goals emerged.  I would have to learn to walk again, regain my balance, and gain mental and physical strength.  Learning to walk again came back to me slowly after a week of intensive therapy at a rehabilitation facility.  Being young and healthy helped me get there fairly quickly.  I continued to do my own therapy at home, then found an amazing therapist who was an experienced triathlete and has worked for many years with stroke patients, as well as young stroke patients.  
Since working with this therapist, I continued to grow stronger both physically and mentally.  With guidance, I incorporated underwater jogging and balance work, HIIT workouts in both running and in the weight room, and yoga. I am now almost 10 months post stroke and have competed in a 5k, have an upcoming 10k trail run, and am looking to continue bumping up my mileage. I have learned to change my workout regime to match my current health safely and effectively.  I pay even more attention to my nutrition and to how my body is feeling.  My stroke has in no way limited me, but has made me a better and smarter athlete.  That 50k will sooner or later be mine!


Sunday, February 12, 2017

Persistence + Patience = Progress = Small Successes

Chris out for a run with the pup
I titled this blog as Persistence + Patience = Progress = Small Successes because I am continuing to learn that persistence and patience are two of the main things that are aiding in my recovery, especially patience.  Through the month of January, I continued to be persistent in working on my exercises and strength training to continue improving my balance and regain strength.  I had attended physical therapy with Northwest Rehab Assoc through the month of December and into January, then continued with the knowledge I had learned from my very passionate physical therapist Mike Studer (also the clinic's owner) on my own.  I could get into the frustration I had with my insurance not approving my therapy with NWRA, but I won't do that here.  BUT I can't tell you enough how great this clinic is and how passionate they are about helping their patients recover and advocate on behalf of their patients.  Just last week I went back in to test my balance and strength over the last month, and I continue to get stronger.  What's interesting is that when we test my balance after I exert some energy, it improves.  You would think the opposite, but this has has always been consistent each time I have done this.  In a way, this makes sense though as many studies show physical activity improve your focus and energy.  I am more proof :)
Braving it with the pup and kiddo
I increased my running mileage to almost 10 miles in a week a couple weeks ago and was feeling good.  Then a few days after that I began to feel dizzy again and some pain in my head.  I definitely got scared as this wasn't a feeling I had experienced since last June, so I had another CT scan and rested at home.  The scan came back about the same as my scan 3 months post stroke, so that was good.  I still have narrowed flow blood through my right vertebral artery and an occlusion where the dissection occurred, which can explain why I experience the feelings I had, and still will as my brain continues to heal.  I also was coming down with a cold (as everyone else around me) which I believe exacerbated the sensations in my head.  I began to feel better, aside from the cold, and was also reassured by my physical therapist that I was okay, and decided I was ready for a 5k race.
ZaoFit gals!
I was gifted an entry into the Chocoladathon from Olivia...the race was put on by Uberthons, and ran with my friends from ZaoFit (Julie, Jerry, Olivia, and Claudia).  My friends Jerry and Julie are ambassadors for Uberthons, so all the more reason to do a race with them.  We raced at Cook Park in Tigard, OR.  I ran here once for a cross country meet in high school.  I remember liking it 17 years ago and there was going to be chocolate, yum, so at 8 months post stroke, this was going to be the race.  I ran the 5k while most everyone else ran the 10k and longer as they were using this as a training day.  It was a beautiful, but cold morning.  The sun was shining and no rain!!!  After a couple months of snow'usj, ice, and rain, it was a very welcoming morning! I ended up with a 26:55, though I ran a little further due to some poor course management by a volunteer, so I finished at 3.2 miles and averaged 8:25 per mile.  I was happy with my race as this was also the first time I had ran that far without stopping for a break since June.  My arms felt weak and heavy the last mile, but my legs held up and more importantly so did my head!! It was a fun morning with friends and I was blessed to have the ability and opportunity to run at this fun event.  I was especially happy to visit with my friend Monica after the race and her precious 6 week old baby Rae.
First 5K post stroke done
With Julie, a huge supporter
 to me
Some people say I've had a long 8 month recovery, but really it hasn't been that long and I continue to be so thankful and blessed to have recovered relatively could have been so much worse. While there was not much I could have done to prevent the type of stroke I had, being young and healthy has helped tremendously in my recovery.  And while according to my insurance and doctors I am back to "normal", I am still learning to be patient with my body.  I so wish I could run with Chris and my friends every weekend and begin training for an ultra race, but my body will usually remind me to slow down and continue to be patient as my brain continues to do the amazing things it can do.  PERSISTENCE and PATIENCE are key in my recovery as most things in our lives, to help gain progress and success. My friends, family, co-workers and running community (Orange Mud community in particular) continue to support and encourage me in my recovery. Take your blessing every day, and take it day by day!

Taking a break on a run at Minto Brown Park
My 2 loves